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The perfect Ger-man, British Citizen, Strongman entrepreneur


I find as I read David Waller’s biography of strongman Eugen Sandow that its relevance a century on is profound: it touches on fame, fortune and celebrity, advertising, entrepreneurship, showmanship, self-publicity, branding and networking, as well as British Empire and our relations with Europe, The US and the ‘colonies’.

No doubt Sandow would have done movies (and appears in a pre-1900clip). He is part Arnold Schwarzenegger, part Simon Cowell or Rod Hull and Emu both Michael Ballentine and Richard Branson. It’s a read not merely for those who operate leisure centres and gyms, but also successful athletes and their agents, franchisees, and soft drinks companies, ad and PR agents and events companies. You’ve got to exploit what you’ve got while you have your admirers.

It should even interest body builders, sports coaches and anyone whose lifestyle includes fitness. And add in the British Army for good measure.

Homosexuality, parenting, the state of the nation’s health and what today would be called ‘wellness’. With Waller there is always the sense of a well read mind and a well exercised pen. I happen to have read HGWell’s Tono-Bungay, but this to me suggests that David is as much an historian as an English scholar, as he does in EH Carr’s words ‘read on a period until you can hear its people speak’. The context of profound ante-German sentiment leading up to The Great War is touched upon and handled well. Indeed, there are occasional phrases or words than give the sense that the author is sitting in his study in his Edwardian smoking Jacket smoking a cigar.

This and I’ve added half a dozen new words to my vocabulary.

Could you imagine Julius Caesar under an umbrella?

Fig. 1. From Gordon Kerr-Smith ‘The Conquest of Britain’

Reading David Waller’s magnificent tome ‘The Magnificent Mrs Tennant’ I stumble upon an anecdote concerning Victor Hugo visiting the house of Gertrude Tennant in a rainstorm in which our heroine enquires if he had an umbrella, to which Hugo’s acolyte or paladin, Monsieur le chevalier Hennet de Kesler, remarked ‘could you imagine Julius Caesar under an umbrella?’ (p161)

Moments later Victor Hugo is amongst Gertrude’s brood of four children playing with dolls named after characters from Les Miserables.

It is this detail, in its 272 pages, that makes for such an entertaining, noteworthy read. It is like a rich Christmas fruit cake. I am exhausted on my second read and taking notes (consuming the book between periods in the Crown Court where I am serving as a Juror).

My notes fill five pages

I had rather expected to do find a picture of Caesar and to add my own doodle or an umbrella. Remarkably I Googled ‘Caesar Umbrella’ and found the above illustrating a poem by Gordon Kerr-Smith on Caesar’s conquest of Britain.


Waller, D,R. (2009) The Magnificent Mrs Tennant. Yale University Press.

The Perfect Man – the Victorian Bodybuilder exposed

I stumbled upon ‘The Perfect Man’ about a Victorian body-builder physical well-being guru while reading and researching ‘The magnificent Mrs Tennant’ by the same author. This is my second read; these books are dense with detail, in the case of Gertrude Tennant from diaries and hundreds of letters.

‘Bulging in all the right places’ says one reviewer  of ‘The Perfect Man’.

David Waller, a former FT Journalist, has an uncanny knack of telling a vivid story while packing it with the kind of detail you’d need to study postgraduate history (which he did, while keeping up the day job). Whilst Mrs T is still only available in print form, ‘Mr P’ as I am calling it, will be available as an eBook. The beauty of this is to then link instantly to all the resources.

An apt read going into the New Year?

I guess I’m studying the wrong MA. I wish all academic tomes could be such a good read, the mix of narrative with the resources/references woven in. I’ve looked at the History modules.

Would I be able to study an MA 1820-1920 for example?

100 Novels – personally recommended

100 Books (mostly FICTION)

The non-fiction choice, Book 101, is ‘The magnificent Mrs Tennant by David Waller’.

Having kept a diary since my early teens in which I recorded what I was reading (including school text books), I have an extraordinary insight into what was being put in front of my mind. What I find remarkable is how, if courtesty of the Internet and Ebay I dig out these books how quickly my mind can pick up where it left off 30+ years ago. This ‘window’ is a short one, at this level. In a few years I abandoned the set format of the ‘Five Year Diary’ with its specific pages to complete. On the other hand, are there not blog and social media platforms that go out of their way to encourage you to reveal something of yourself through what you read, watch and do?

This list is fluid and understandably incomplete. I have not put in Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci’ for example, as I feel it would have to come with a caveat – I read it to find out what the fuss was about. I felt as if I’d been made to play a game of snakes and ladders through an alternative and ridiculous world. It may also have put me off ever believing I could compete as a commercial author if this is what it requires. My excuse might be quaified by the French Movie Director Francois Truffaut who argued that you had to read everything, especially the ‘trash mags’ – indeed, the trashier the book the easier it is to turn into a film?

What attracts us to lists?

I should create a list of the books I’ve tried to read but could not: Ulysseys, War and Peace, Enid Blyton … any other Dan Brown! (Actually, Michael Crichton, even Stephen King, can be as daft and crass).

I see too there are still a few non-fiction works in here; I’ll filter these out in due course as I build my 100 Non-Fiction list.

I am also electing to leave out books that had to be read at school, so I ought not to have Thomas Hardy, T S Elliot or Shakespeare. Nor do I include a book if all I’ve done is see the film, which is how I suspect the ‘popular’ lists compiled by the likes of the BBC are created.

As an exercise, you make a list and immediately start to change it, indeed, I’ve just thought of a very important piece of ficton I read based on recommendation; these often turn out to be the best reads, from people who know you. All my reading of Haruki Murakimi is the product of being part of a writer’s group for a while.

As I edit I will be seeking to keep books in that matter to me, that I could discuss and defend and that I’d like others to read.

Some choices are informed by a friend who read English at Oxford; others from the Guardian’s ‘Thousands Books’ you must read before you die, which, where the library could supply them I would follow, though often having to read something else by the same author (or getting distracted by something else on the shelf).

I will also extract children’s books, those I recall reading as a child, but also those I have read to my children.

Now I’m starting to sound like a bookstore 😦

1  Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller

4 Foundation Series – Isaac Asimov

5 Remembrance of Things Past – Marcel  Proust

6 Tides of War  – Steven Pressfield

7 Gates of War – Steven Pressfield

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 Return to Arms – Ernest Hemmingway

10 Fatherland – Robert Harris

11 The  Naked and the Dead – Norman Mailer

12 Harlot’s Ghost – Norman Mailer

13 The Executioner’s Song – Norman Mailer

14 Engelby – Sebastian Faulk

15 The Birds and other stories – Daphne Du  Maurrier

16 Sunset Song – Lewis Grassick Gibbon

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Regeneration Series – Pat Barker

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Life Drawing – Pat Barker

21 One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch – Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 The Gulgag Archipelago- Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26 Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

29 Vox – Nicholas Baker

30 The Decameron – Giovanni Boccaccio

31 How the  Dead Live – Will Self

32 Time Enough for Love – Robert Heinlein

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 The Foundation of Paradise – Arthur.C.Clarke

35 Enigma – Robert Harris

36 The Ghost – Robert Harris

37 Pompeii – Robert Harris

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Orlando – Virginia Woolf

40 Girl in a Coma – Douglas Coupland

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Space Trilogy series – C .S.Lewis

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

45 A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

46 The Wind-up Bird Chronicles – Haruki Murakami

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 The Time Machine – H.G.Wells

52The War of the Worlds – H.G.Wells

53 The Invisible Man – H.G.Wells

54 Tono-Bungay – H.G.Wells

55 The Last Kingdom – Bernard Cornwell

56 The Lords of the North – Bernard Cornwell

57 The Island – Victoria Hislop

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 The Lost Continent. Travels in small town America – Bill Bryson

61 Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

65 Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh

66 Tropic of Capricorn – Henry Miller

67 Sexus, Plexus & Nexus – Henry Miller

68 Quiet Days in Clichy – Henry Miller

69 The Crimson Petal and The White – Michel Faber

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Under a Glass Bell – Anais Nin

72 House of Incest – Anais Nin

73 The Diary of Anais Nin (7 volumes) – Anais Nin

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson.

75 Boy – Roald Dahl

76 The Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

77 State of Fear – Michael Crichton

78  The Last Juror – John Grisham

79 A Painted House – John Grisham

80 The Testament – John Grisham

81 A Time to Kill – John Grisham

82 Duma Key – Stephen King

83 Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

84 Stranger in Strange Land – Robert Heinlein

85 Going Solo – Roald Dahl

86 Crash – J.G.Ballard

87 Timeline – Stephen King

88 Super-Cannes – J.G.Ballard

89 Atomised – Michel Houellbecq

90 Platform – Michel Houellbecq

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 Steve Jobs: The Authorised Biography – Walter Isaacson

93 The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95  Macbeth – William Shakespeare

96 I, Claudius – Robert Graves

97 Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl.

100 Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sandak

I’ve just read ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’ by Norman Mailer and ‘Super-Cannes’ by J G Ballard.

Norman Mailer


I’ve just read ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’ by Norman Mailer and ‘Super-Cannes’ by J G Ballard. I’m now back with Mailer:

Norman Mailer’s ‘Harlot’s Ghost’

Author’s Note

‘Some good novels can start far from one’s immediate life and derive instead from ones cultural experience and ones ongoing imaginative faculty. Over the years, that faculty can build nests of context on to themes that attract it.’

I pluck these quotes to justify my kind of writing (the currently unpublished, egotistical ramblings of an obsessive lifetime diarist). I liked this:

‘Novelists not only live their own lives but develop other characters within themselves who never reveal their particular intelligence to the novelist’s conscious mind until, perchance, the day they come into one’s working literary preoccupations.’

I’m full of them, full of it and always on the look out for more; you’re probably in here too (the fiction that is, not the non-fiction). Talking of which, I liked the way this was put:

‘Some non-fiction awakens the imagination. Its personages take on the lustre of good fictional characters, that is, they seem as real and complex as men and women we know intimately.’

This is how I’d describe David Waller’s non-fiction account of the Mercedes-Chrysler merger ‘Wheels on Fire’

It reads as well as a novel in characterisation, milieu and narrative structure. Go and buy it; I’ll get him to send you a signed copy if you like it. I did, even though he’s a mate of 22 years standing. He then said this (Norman Mailer that is).

‘It is the author’s contention that good fiction – if the writer can achieve it – is more real, that is, more nourishing to our sense of reality, than non-fiction.’

Can I feel the same way about visualising a film?

‘Novelists have a unique opportunity – they can create superior if imaginative histories out of an enhancement of the real, the unverified, and the wholly fictional.’

And just to prove I can fill a page with cuttings without mentioning a school-run, a swimming trip, the state of the my health, the health of the family, the weather (ooh isn’t it warm for the time of year) or the height of the tide as I write on the pebbles 152 yards from where I am sitting, here’s another quote. I might need these one day. Help yourself, they’re all from Norman Mailer and all in the ‘Author’s Note’ to ‘Harlot’s Ghost.’

‘I have done enough indifferent writing myself over the years, and have spent so much time contemplating why it is bad, that by now I can read another author’s work and penetrate on occasion to what he is or, even more important, is not really saying.’

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